African American Detectives

Denzel Washington plays one of the African American detectives
Denzel Washington in “Devil in a Blue Dress”

I was thrilled to find a list of African American mystery writers on the blog site of the Los Angeles Public Library. The title of the article is “African American Mystery Writers and Their African American Detectives.” That made me chuckle because it showed that the author understood it was necessary to say that the African American writers were writing about African American detectives. One can never assume anything.

Idris Elba plays one of the African American detectives.
Idris Elba in “Luther”

Last week, someone asked me about the novel I’m writing. I explained the plot to him. Immediately, this person—who was a white male—started throwing out names of actors who could play the lead role in the imaginary movie version. Every actor he mentioned was white. Every single one. When he finished, I just looked at him for a few seconds. Then I said that I was thinking along the lines of Denzel Washington or Idris Elba. He looked like he was confused. And then his expression changed to surprise as he realized that I was writing about a black man.

It wasn’t unusual that his default casting was for a white man. What was surprising was that he assumed that was my position, too. I think it honestly didn’t occur to him that I would imagine a fictitious person as anything other than white. The fact that I’m a black woman didn’t change his assumption.  

Representation matters. Therefore, I feel that it’s incumbent upon me, and others who feel the same way, to create as many different images of African Americans as we can in both print and visual media.

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